Renault's decision to re-sign Fernando Alonso and promote Nelson Piquet Jr to its Formula One frontline for 2008 has left its 2007 line-up both looking for jobs in an increasingly tight market.

While Giancarlo Fisichella's exit from Enstone was not unexpected, the veteran having failed to convince team boss Flavio Briatore that he deserved another year, Heikki Kovalainen could have hoped for a second chance, having out-pointed his Italian team-mate after a wobbly start to the year and secured Renault's only podium in the rain at Fuji. Briatore, however, does not take decisions lightly and, with Alonso returning to the market after a tough year at McLaren, his driver choice has taken some months to come together.

Initially proposed for the days around the Italian Grand Prix, Briatore finally made his announcement on Monday, confirming that, having survived the wrath of the FIA, Renault would be reunited with Alonso, but with Piquet being promoted from reserve to make his F1 debut in 2008. While that decision begs an altogether different question of how Alonso will fare against a hungry young rookie - as was the case when he fronted up to Lewis Hamilton in 2007 - the more pressing enquiry surrounds the future of the man the Brazilian replaces.

Kovalainen's end of season performances appeared to have moved him into pole position to partner either Alonso or Piquet in next year's line-up - and the Heikki-Nelson testing tandem in Barcelona appeared to suggest that they were the likely pairing for 2008 - the Finn now finds himself casting around for employment.

While team-mate Fisichella faces the potentially tougher task of convincing team bosses to take a chance on his experience, Kovalainen at least has the new-found desire to look at youth on his side. However, with one exception, all the leading seats for next season appear to have been filled while Briatore dallied.

Ironically, however, it is that one remaining seat that could be Kovalainen's salvation, for he had long been tipped as a potential swap for Alonso, moving to McLaren alongside Hamilton while the Spaniard returned to Renault. The Finn is seen as a more laid-back alternative to some of those touted as McLaren drivers, and would likely be less fazed by Hamilton's pace - although how he reacts to the Woking team's recent assertion that the Briton would be its focus for 2008 remains to be seen. The only candidates likely to be above Heikki on Ron Dennis' shopping list could be Pedro de la Rosa, who not only knows the McLaren system inside out but would also satisfy the team's Spanish sponsors, enticed on board with Alonso's arrival for 2007.

Nico Rosberg, Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld have all be listed as potential team-mates for Hamilton, but all appear committed to their current teams - Williams, Force India and BMW Sauber - and Kovalainen's sudden return to the market could end speculation once and for all.

The Finn's only other option, tail-enders aside, could be Toyota, where Jarno Trulli's position was thought to be uncertain while Alonso remained a free agent. Although the Cologne team may yet favour experience alongside GP2 champion Timo Glock next season, Kovalainen has been around F1 long enough to be a candidate should Toyota opt for a clean slate in '08.

Fisichella, meanwhile, has been testing with Force India as he makes a play for one more year in the top flight, but faces stiff opposition from fellow veteran Ralf Schumacher, as well as young chargers Tonio Liuzzi and Christian Klien, with Roldan Rodriguez and Giedo van der Garde outsiders to partner Sutil next season.

So, should Kovalainen be the man for McLaren, or should one of the other candidates be ahead of him in the pecking order?

Have your say HERE

 

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